A coroner has called for more to be done to warn of the dangers of swimming in the sea on a night out after a man drowned during Storm Callum.
Brighton and Hove assistant coroner Gilva Tisshaw said extra steps must be taken to make the public aware of the risks of going into the water after drinking or taking drugs as she ruled David Dooley’s death an accident.
The 38-year-old Irish man was swept out to sea after a night out in Brighton on October 13, while being almost four times the drink-drive limit.
He was spotted “waving his arms and making attempts to return to shore” in the “very rough” sea with “high winds and large waves” before he fell lifeless and his body was seen floating.
An inquest today heard revellers spilling out of seafront nightclubs, heading onto the beach and venturing into the sea after a night drinking was a common problem in the East Sussex city.
Born in Dublin, Mr Dooley lived in Tullamore, Co Offaly, before moving to Chiswick, west London – where he was described as a popular regular at The Windmill pub in nearby Acton.
He had recently moved to Sussex for work before he died, having arranged that day to meet an old friend in Brighton and they ended up on the beach after spending the evening drinking.
A post-mortem examination found he died from drowning, but “serious intoxication” was a contributing factor. Toxicology reports also showed he had traces of cocaine in his system.
He is survived by his wife Khrystyna and son Brandon.
Last month, Ms Tisshaw adjourned the inquest while she investigated “matters of concern” over whether Mr Dooley could have been saved.
Police were first called at 1.21am and saw him in the water two minutes later. He had stopped moving around 20 minutes later and his body was pulled out of the water at around 2am.
Officers were ordered not to go into the rough seas because Mr Dooley had drifted too far out and the weather was so bad it was unsafe to try to rescue him, the inquest previously heard.
The police on the scene did not know where to find life rings which are stored along the beach – although at least two had been close by, resulting in delays in attempts to reach him.
Instead they tried to get closer and shout instructions as he was battered by the waves and rapidly dragged west by the current.
Experienced surfer and swimmer Chris Ingall, the council’s seafront office manager, told the court a shingle bank had built up on the beach that night and there were “extremely powerful” crashing waves of up to three metres high hitting the shore every four to seven seconds, adding: “The sea is very unforgiving at the best of times.”
Sussex Police Sergeant Paul Nellis said he had “never seen the waves so bad” in his 10 years working for the police in the city, adding: “It was my honest opinion at the time that if anyone else had entered the sea, they would have been swept away.”
While Pc Anastasia Dart said she feared for the safety of officers after feeling “shocked at the momentum of the sea” and “surprised that the waves were so aggressive.”
Ms Tisshaw said: “I believe there was nothing further the police could have done.”
In making the report to prevent future deaths – where coroners can tell public bodies to take action, Ms Tisshaw said: “I believe steps should be taken to increase police awareness of the locations of life rings.
“Steps should be taken to increase public awareness of the risks of the sea when having consumed alcohol or drugs”.
Mr Dooley was one of two people to die as the storm wreaked devastation across western parts and coastal areas of the country that weekend.
- Press Association